How to Use Instagram Hashtags to their Full Potential

social media hashtags

Instagram recently announced that it’s algorithm has changed yet again. With all these new changes, it will only get harder to be discovered on Instagram in 2018 and you might need all the help you can get – that includes hashtags.

You are probably wondering how Instagram hashtags work in 2018, especially now that all the rules have changed. Fear not, we’re going to tackle all your questions and provide you with tips on how to use Instagram hashtags to grow your business effectively.

We already know that hashtags, along with helping you categorise, are a great way to attract followers and create a brand image. A post with no hashtags may appear cleaner, but a post with even just a single hashtag is likelier to receive more engagement among the two.

Which is why you need revised strategy for using Instagram hashtags in 2018 if you want to stay on top of your game.

Here’s everything you should be considering:

(1) Do your research 

Finding the perfect Instagram hashtags for your business can be frustrating and people oftentimes end up using multiple slightly altered versions of the same hashtag – which is fine, but a bit redundant. So how do you go about choosing your hashtags?

It’s always a good idea to start with some research. You need to discover hashtags that are specific to your target audience. There are a few ways to do this:

1. Analyse hashtags used by competitors

Take a note of which hashtags your competitors or similar brands in the industry are using. If it has worked for them, it could work for you too. Industry-specific Instagram hashtags for business can help you attract a wider audience. Take inspiration from the pre-existing influencer community.

2. Use related hashtags

Instagram suggests related hashtags when you search for a specific one that you like. You can go through the suggested hashtags when you are running out of ideas or when you want to compare the reach of similar hashtags.

Instagram hashtag search info with related hashtags search

How Instagram suggest related hashtags

3. Test it out and compare results

If you have a business profile, Instagram’s analytics can help you understand how well Instagram hashtags are working for you. Instagram’s analytics provides you with audience demographics, and insights into how well your post is performing such as post impressions and reach.

Comparing how effectively your posts are reaching your target audience when a specific hashtag is used can help you vastly narrow down your search. Keep a constant tab on how people are finding your posts by viewing Insights for individual posts.

Unbox Social can provide even more enhanced analytics, including comprehensive data for comparing hashtag performance.

4. Use research tools

There are a number of hashtag research tools that you can use. Some of them like Hashtagify even tell you how popular an Instagram hashtag is. Use them for your research.

How many Instagram hashtags is the right amount of hashtags?

Instagram allows you to post 30 tags. Should you choose to utilize all 30 of them or stick to a few is entirely your call. But, it has been advised that 11 is the optimal number but that doesn’t mean it will work for you. Even though a 91% of top brands use 7 or less hashtags per post, this statistic means little to you if you are a small brand.

Using all 30 tags may seem like a good idea since it can get you more likes, but you’re often getting these likes from spammers. It can also get a little irritating for your followers (yes, even if you hide them in the comments).

The conclusion – you need to figure out which number works best for you. Take time to test it out.

Why using the most popular hashtag doesn’t always work?

You might think using the most popular hashtags like the hashtags for days of the week will put you out there, but sometimes your post might get lost in the sea of other posts. Using a more specific hashtag will make you stand out. For example if you use #cat, the post has a lesser chance of being seen than if you use, let’s say, #blackkitten. Millions of people are looking for cats on Instagram but if there is a person looking specifically for black kittens, you are giving them just that. There are also more chances that such a person will engage with your post.

Of course there’s a downside to this: super specific hashtags may have only a few hundred other posts using them. Fewer people are going to look them up. The key is to find niche Instagram hashtags for your business which are not too unique. (How? See #1)

(2) Rotate your hashtags

Keep updating your Instagram hashtags. You may be tempted to use the same ones you have been using in the past once you realize that they work well, but times change. Internet trends are in and out in a single day, and you need to keep up with them. Make sure your hashtags stay time relevant.

Rotating your hashtags gives you access to a varying audience. It also keeps things interesting for those who already follow you.

Another reason for implementing this is Instagram’s Shadowban. Instagram filters out offensive content by banning a few hashtags every once in a while. It hides posts that contain the hashtag, thus limiting the reach of said post.

What does that mean for you? There is no clear way to prove how Instagram selects which hashtags to ban, but ones that seem to be generated by an automated bot are likely to be on the blacklist. If you put up the same hashtags for months, there are chances that Instagram could think you’re a spammer.

You obviously would want to avoid that. The thing is, there’s also no way to find out which hashtags have been currently banned by Instagram.

It could be absolutely anything, including #snapchat (which just so happens to be Instagram’s biggest competitor, but that’s besides the point).

Way to check the banned Instagram hashtags and get maximum reach of post by hashtags

Keep rotating Instagram hashtags and check for the banned ones

You can test your hashtag before using it, but remember that banned hashtags keep changing.

The only way to ensure you aren’t accidentally using a banned hashtag is to keep your hashtags fresh.

(3) Drop the gimmicks

It’s 2018. It’s time to drop the overused Instagram hashtags for followers such as #likeforlike. They may help you win likes for an individual post, but that does nothing to ensure your organic growth. They also don’t ensure engagement from your followers.

It’s also tacky at this point. Just don’t do it.

(4) Use hashtags in stories

Instagram lets you use hashtags in stories, which is something you should be doing if you aren’t already. Most tags have their own stories attached to them and Instagram has now started pinning these in the explore feed. It is very easy to feature on a tag’s story. And while this feature is already popular at the moment, it has all the potential to be bigger in the future.

How to add hashtags on Instagram stories

Advantage of using hashtags on Instagram Stories

You might want to make use of that. Your Story could easily be discovered through these hashtags. More views doesn’t necessarily mean more followers, but it could help in getting your brand be discovered by a potential customer.

You can add up to 10 hashtags in stories, but you might not want to overdo it to avoid making it look messy.

The trick to adding a bunch of hashtags and still making your story look presentable is making your hashtags small and hiding them behind a big sticker. Another way to hide your hashtags expertly is to use the picker and make the text colour of your hashtag same as the background colour. It totally works!

(5) Create a brand hashtag

Creating a brand hashtag can be risky, because you cannot guarantee that it will always work the way you intended. But it pays off when done right. It may not be easy creating a viral hashtag, but there is no reason you shouldn’t try it. Be creative! Create something that is catchy – it could be funny and unique. It doesn’t have to be limited to your brand name, it can be specific to your campaign.

Take a look at how Uber is using its branded hashtag #BackseatView to share gorgeous photos taken from the back seat of an uber:

How to use a branded hashtag on Instagram post

How Uber used branded hashtags on Instagram

Events you can create a brand hashtag for:

  1. Ad campaigns
  2. Contests
  3. Product launches
  4. Promotions
  5. Behind the scenes/Workplace environment

Keep in mind that the best brand hashtag is the one that doesn’t seem like it was meant to be one. If you want it to appeal to your audience, you may want to make sure you don’t sound too much like a salesperson.

Take inspiration from your existing social media communications and other successful brand hashtags, but don’t forget to be authentic. Look at Lay’s #DoUsAFlavor campaign hashtag – it’s inviting, has a pun in it and is memorable. No wonder it was popular and highly beneficial for the pre-launch of Lay’s new flavor.

Hashtags can be easily misread. Make sure you avoid making a blunder like #susanalbumparty. A simple thing called capitalisation can make a great difference.

Once you’ve decided on a hashtag, make sure you’re consistent with it. Use it wherever possible and use it wisely. And don’t forget to encourage your followers to follow your brand hashtag!

(6) Encouraging your followers to follow your hashtag

You can encourage your followers to follow your branded hashtag, since that is something Instagram allows you to do now. This is likely to help you in engagement and visibility.

(7) Create Micro-communities

You could also encourage your followers to tag their posts with the branded hashtag. This can help you create a micro-community. This works mostly because it also gives a chance to the people of being discovered themselves. It’s a win-win!

(8) Add hashtags to your bio

Adding hashtags to your bio is great way to keep your followers informed about relevant hashtags and campaigns. If you have created a brand hashtag, it’s time to put it in your bio.

It’s also a good idea to add hashtags that can help your Instagram followers categorise your feed.

Adidas often places their on-going campaign and product hashtags in their bios, to help their followers filter out specific posts from their feed.

Instagram hashtags for business and links in Instagram bio

How to add hashtags in Instagram bioHow to add hashtags in Instagram bio

How Adidas make use of Hashtags in Instagram bio


So are Instagram hashtags still effective in 2018? Absolutely!

Hashtags are a great way to increasing visibility and to help you grow organically on social media. But you may need to optimize your Instagram hashtag strategy for 2018.

To do that, you should start with a thorough research on what hashtags your competitors are using and how your own hashtags are performing. Try using outside tools to help you with your research.

Once you’re equipped with research and analytics, you can start thinking about how and where to use these hashtags.

Use your knowledge to reach your target audience. Remember that the most popular hashtags don’t always work because of the huge number of posts using them. Make sure you’re not using banned hashtags.

Use hashtags in Stories, in your bio, and wherever you can to promote them.

Finally, don’t be afraid to experiment a little. If you want to create a brand hashtag or a micro-community, go for it!

Hashtags, when used right, can be very powerful. Embrace that power.

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